While the temples in Cambodia in the Angkor region are simply swarming with tourists, in southern Laos is a beautiful pre-Angkorian temple which you can visit almost on your own. Its known by a number of names, Wat Phu, Vat Phou, Wat Phou and so on.
Though not as spectacular as the plethora of temples in the Angkor region, Wat Phu is a beautiful ancient Hindu temple which is very interesting in its own right.
The walkway towards the temple is along an avenue which leads up the hill to the temple complex. To the left and right of this walkway are the main reservoirs which we were told were for the Hindu cleansing process before prayer.
Once you reach the end of the avenue, you come across two palaces. The original purpose of these buildings is unknown and to me, they reminded me of the library buildings often seen at the temples at Angkor. However here, the library is further up the hill.
Extensive conservation efforts were going on in this palace area, particularly regarding the north palace building which appears to be a very active conservation site. It was completely fenced and had heavy lifting machinery and a great number of conservation workers. I believe this particular effort was being supported by the Indian government by the sign I remember seeing near the palace.
All around the palaces were small piles of bricks which appeared to have possibly been removed for conservation and not put back yet, as seen bottom right of the South Palace building photo.
Many of these piles of bricks were heavily carved, often with spectacular Naga (Naga is a multi-headed snake) images.
Once past the palaces, and a small temple in poor condition, begins the steps. Now a word of warning here, if you have dodgy knees, heart condition or aren’t too good with heights you might want to stop here. The steps are steep, very narrow and there are a truckload of them! If you do decide to tackle them, a handy hint is to zigzag up (and down) the steps sideways.
It was warm the day we were there but I can imagine it would be an unbareable sweaty climb in hot weather. Once you reach the top, there is some shaded areas where you can relax, enjoy the beautiful view and catch your breathe for a moment before exploring further.
When you are ready to go, there are a number of things to see at the top. Firstly, a temple which now contains Buddha images. This seemed like a popular spot with the locals to come and say a prayer. Its quite the pilgrimage up those steps.
Behind the temple is a small library in a poor state.
At the very back of this area by the rock face, is a natural spring and ancient stone aqueducts which would have channeled water to the linga which is no longer there.
Further exploration will lead you to a number of rock carvings including a Buddha’s foot, crocodile and an elephant.
Once you have had enough, you now have the challenge of getting back down all those steps and walking the considerable distance back to the main entrance.
One more thing before you leave and head back to town, you should stop in and visit the museum onsite. Its not large, only really two rooms but well worth spending half an hour in.
Entrance fee to the complex is 30-40,000 kip which is around $US4-5 and I estimate you should allow around 2-3 hours to visit.
If you are interested in more historical information about Wat Phu, you may like to read about it on Wikipedia.